I was walking down Swanston Street in Melbourne alone one day, near the old City Baths, (I was about 15 years old) when I saw a homeless man coming towards me. He looked rough – dirty clothes, unshaven face, scraggly hair, the type of man whose age has been obliterated by hard times.
I braced myself. Experience had taught me that a racist remark doesnt hurt nearly as much if you are expecting it. I had grown up with racial taunts my whole life but you never get used to them. You say to yourself that these people are just ignoramuses, but it doesnt help.
I gritted my teeth.
As the man passed he opened his mouth to speak. But to my surprise and great joy, he said in a beautiful gravelly voice, ‘Gidday me ol’ China plate.’
I smiled inside.
(For those of you who haven’t heard this Australian slang before, ‘old china plate’ is an endearing term which means ‘mate’.)